Candy bars and soda would vanish from concession stands, if the Grand County School District adopts changes to its wellness policy.
Also on the chopping block would be selling cookie dough as a fundraiser, candy as an in-classroom reward and more than one birthday cake or pizza party in the classroom a month.
The changes are part of revisions to the school district’s wellness policy that the district’s wellness council is proposing.
“If we don’t change our eating, this is the first generation that won’t outlive their parents,” said Janel Arbon, a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator for Moab Regional Hospital, who also belongs to the school district’s wellness council. “The important thing to realize is where change can come from.”
Statistics are alarming, Arbon said. Of 5- to 16-year-olds, one in three is overweight and one in five is obese. Among minorities, one in three children under 5 is overweight.
Currently, the district does not sell pop or candy bars in its vending machines. Five years ago, the district switched to only offering snacks that meet certain nutritional requirements.
School lunches have also gotten healthier, said Debbie Rappe, child nutrition program supervisor for the school district.
Federal guidelines for school lunch changed, and so did what was on the menu.
“We’ve tried over the last five years to serve more grains, brown rice, more vegetables and fruits, less processed food,” Rappe said.
With the proposed changes, those standards would carry over to extracurricular activities held at the schools, fundraisers and food or treats provided in the classroom.
Teachers wouldn’t be able to give candy as rewards, and parents would have to get an OK before bringing cupcakes or other birthday treats to school. Each month, each class would be allowed one birthday celebration, so every May birthday child, for example, would celebrate at the same time. This is to avoid children getting two cupcakes or other treats in the same day.
Similarly, teachers often offer pizza or Popsicle parties as an incentive for the students reaching a goal. Those would be limited to once a month.
“From teachers and students, the reaction has been, ‘Whoa,’” Arbon said. “But there is some positive feedback out there.”
When Superintendent Margaret Hopkin saw the proposed changes, she was skeptical.
“When I heard this at first, I thought, ‘This is really outrageous,’” she said.
But now she’s completely on board.
In fact, she’s part of a new coalition of community members who have organized to try to promote healthy eating and living in Moab as a whole.
Members include Arbon, Rappe, the city’s recreation director, a representative from the health department and the Youth Garden Project director.
They had their first meeting Thursday, April 26, and will meet again May 10.
They’re looking at a community-wide advertising campaign – modeled after the LiVe campaign managed by Salt Lake City-based Intermountain Healthcare – to promote physical activity and healthy lifestyles in Moab.
“It’s creating a culture and attacking it from many angles,” said John Geiger, Moab City Recreation coordinator. “If this is seen as a communal effort, then it’s not, ‘John’s a communist.’ If this is coming from all over the place, it will be less easy to dismiss.”
The school district’s proposed changes fit right in with the committee’s goals of changing the culture of what’s acceptable.
Jennifer Sadoff, director of community relations and marketing at Moab’s hospital, compared it to smoking. It used to be widely accepted behavior. Now, most people view it as unhealthy, she said.
Some critics, though, have accused the school district of being un-American or forsaking people’s right to choose what to put into their bodies.
But, Hopkin said, no one’s saying fans can’t have pop at a high school football game. If they want pop, they can bring it from home.
Backers of the changes hope that by not providing pop, candy or other high-calorie, high-fat sugary treats to kids in schools, they will send a message about what’s healthy and what’s not.
Grand County High School has open campus over lunch. Many high school students go to City Market to buy pop and chips. They’ll bring that back to school, and that’s all they have for lunch, Rappe said.
At Helen M. Knight Elementary recently, a student brought a bottle of Coke in her sack lunch.
Rappe worries about students consuming all that sugar and then being asked to pay attention and learn in class afterward.
Couple the treats in school with the snacks many kids get at extracurricular activities such as soccer or baseball, and it’s no wonder the idea of what constitutes a healthy diet is blurred for kids, officials said.
“It’s such a normal part of their diet,” Arbon said. “I think some kids think they need it. I really think some kids don’t understand. I don’t think they see that correlation between the heart attack and the chips.
“We’re not trying to cause a ruckus or anything. We’re looking at what’s an epidemic in this country and trying to solve our own problems. Our goal is to create a healthier environment.”